This weekend was amazing and one of the absolute best of the year in terms of fun I had meeting friends and playing Magic. My only disappointment with this past weekend which included Grand Prix San Jose and the following judge conference had nothing to do with either event.
My normally trusty Focus decided this would be the weekend where the fuel pump would bite the dust leaving me carless for the weekend. To add to this, I missed a recall to get it replaced by less than a year. So I enjoyed a weekend without my car and a hefty bill to boot.
Big thanks to my teammates Ron & Zac and fellow judges Alexei & Jess for helping me with rides and a place to stay during the event. I would have missed one of the best weekends of Magic in a long time if not for them, and I really appreciate it. Sadly, this turn of events did mean that I did miss States on Day Two. Frankly, finding a ride on Sunday was near-impossible and I was drained by the end of Saturday. Of course I got to leave early—the judges and players in contention didn’t get out until nearly 1 a.m.!
Which sums up everyone’s only real complaint about the Team Sealed format: The actual format was solid, the team-based aspect everyone I met and chatted with loved, and the tournament was the smoothest GP-level event I’ve ever attended.
Speaking of the tournament and judges: I posted as much about the judges on my Facebook and I’ll repeat it here. The staff list for this GP was absolutely loaded from top to bottom, run by a solid TO and the amazing result of this was apparent to all. Even with the two wild-cards—a format that hasn’t been used in years and 1,700 players showing up to a GP in a region that had yet to break 1,000.
Lucas Siow (Congrats!) posted on his Facebook about estimates for GP attendance and set a line at 400 teams (1,200 players). While many of the posters took the over, I posted that while I hoped we’d break that line, history had shown CA tournaments rarely get more than 1,000 players and the largest west coast GP on record only had 1,400. San Jose absolutely smashed the line with nearly 1/3rd more players and demolished every WC record. I give a hearty thanks to everyone that attended because it may get us more Grand Prix events in the future.
With all that wonderful rah-rah out of the way, let me briefly touch on the one sore spot. Day One of the GP was 11 rounds.
With building and the best turnaround time of every round start to next round posted being an hour, that meant anyone playing it out was looking at a 12-14 hour day of Magic. Even for people that love the game, that’s a hell of a lot of focus and energy expended in one of the more mentally taxing games around.
With future team events something has to be done to prevent this from happening. One thought floated amongst the judge staff that got some murmurs of assent was the reduction or outright removal of byes from team tournaments and a possible team GP tiebreaker patch. Removing byes from these tournaments isn’t an unrealistic solution to help keep the number of rounds down. The main drawback is the amount of money it costs TOs by not giving them access to Grand Prix Trials and grinders.
In that case, removing byes from all but GPT and grinder winners could go a long way. Even those could potentially be reduced to a single bye which I feel is weighted even heavier in a team tournament, especially one where longevity is going to be a real factor to teams’ success.
I was curious as to how the bye situation changed between normal GP events and San Jose, so I took a look at the % of byes in the field.
221 teams out of 571, 38% of the tournament, had at least 1 bye.
141 teams, 24% of the tournament, had 2 byes.
Let’s compare to a few recent GP events:
GP: Boston GP: Moscow
One bye – 35% | 25%
Two byes – 19% | 12.5%
Three byes – 10% | 8%
I skimmed a few more and found that typically 7-10% of the players had the maximum amount of byes, versus having about a quarter of the tournament maxing out on byes. No matter how you work it out though, something will be necessary for future team events with these kinds of turnouts. I’m sure Organized Play will come up with something—I can’t imagine team events not coming back for good after this weekend.
RTR Draft Thoughts
One of the highlights of my weekend was my team-drafts on site at GP: San Jose against various good teams (highlight included 3-0′ing the Hetrick/Shahar team, congrats on their performance) and here are just some general thoughts. I’m certainly open to changing.
Stab Wound is the best common in the set. It varies between a normal removal spell and a Sensory Deprivation and a one-sided Sulfuric Vortex. Oftentimes if you’ve dealt some early damage and you throw it on a Hover Barrier or a Golgari wall-ish creature (Trestle Troll and any of their x/3 scavengers come to mind) you can just watch them bleed out. Best case for the victim is you waste cards dealing with Stab Wound, and in the worst case you’re left with no way to deal with it and eat 2 life a turn. I was the victim of multiple Stab Wounds this weekend and by the end of it I felt like just spending the removal spell was well worth it. Between Stab Wound and Explosive Impact it just becomes way too easy to lose games where you’ve locked the board up.
Axebane Guardian was showcased in the top five cards of the GP. The more I got to play with Axebane’s, the more I loved having access to early mana fixing and acceleration while everyone else was wasting time. One of my biggest issues with Golgari was an inability to cast more then one spell a turn and having active Axebane Guardian quickly turned that around.
Guys with 4 toughness and above are pretty fairly costed in this format, and the majority of them would make my deck. Frostburn Weird stands above the crowd though as a cheap creature that not only blocks everything, but can eat 2/2′s and present a significant clock later in the game. I feel like this actually hurts Izzet over other color combinations, since Izzet really needs them to survive early and is one of the only really solid commons it has. Meanwhile other decks in blue or red don’t mind snagging them early and get nearly as much value out of them. Trestle Troll and companions are all very playable—between Axebane, Troll, and Ogre Jailbreaker, these are among the primary reasons I don’t mind being a ponderous board control deck.
Speaking of good defenders, I underrated [card lobber crew]Lobster Crew[/card] a week ago and have come around on it immensely. Most people just jam them into anything and expect them to do a whole lot of work with no real investment. Yeah, you can play Lobber Crew as a value 0/4, just don’t expect the crew to put in a lot of hours against Rakdos, detain, or Selesnya. Most unleash creatures can bash right by and Selesnya creatures quickly outclass and outrace Lobstermen. They need to be treated as early game defenders only that should only be relied on as a real damage source if you build your deck around gold cards and have a burn suite to go along with them. Don’t try and win with a trio of Lobster Crew and six other guys that only block.
Izzet is the weakest guild combination unless you get hooked-up with the better uncommons and a rare or two. It isn’t like going black in AVR where you needed the nuts or you couldn’t win a round, but there was a noticeable disconnect. Frostburn Weird and Goblin Electromancer stuck out as the two great common creatures Izzet has access to, and while it has decent defenders like Doorkeeper and Lobber Crew, you need a certain threshold of them or you’ll simply get run over early. It doesn’t really have good finishers or fat and the tricks all suffer as a result of Izzet’s creature quality in a fight. Get enough ways to hold off Rakdos and not get rolled by Selesnya filling the board with Centaurs, and you have a successful Izzet deck.
Golgari is one of those middle-of-the-road guilds and only gets impressive when you build to its strengths. Scavenge as a mechanic doesn’t work too well in-guild, and really only excels on fliers. Some of the creatures are good enough that scavenge is just a bonus, but if you really want to take advantage of it look for a certain number of Daggerdrome Imp, Stonefare Crocodile, and Golgari Decoy. Being these colors gives you a nice amount of removal at common and uncommon and a fair number of defenders and general beef to go along with them.
Cards like Perilous Shadow, which I’d normally hate, I actually like in Golgari decks looking to stall the game out. You can effectively defend yourself while not sinking your mana into the Shade. Being a 0/4 to start with is huge, since even with no mana or just 1B open you have a large butt to block with and very little common removal outright kills it if you tap out.
Once you get around to attacking, the opponent can’t really ignore the Shade without taking a ton of damage. Just keep in mind the usual risks associated with Shade creatures and don’t pick them too highly, as there are still a fair number of cards that keep this guy in check. Just like Stab Wound though, certain decks have major issues dealing with the card and sometimes need to throw multiple cards away to get rid of the threat.
Rogue’s Passage is a narrow card that gets no real love. Games stall a lot, and having a way of closing it out that doesn’t cost a spell slot is nice to have. Golgari and slower UW decks will love this card and even Rakdos can get use from this if the color requirements aren’t too hideous. Sometimes you just need a way to force through the final 3-5 damage. Terrus Wurm is another expensive finisher and a card I’ve frequently gotten in the last few picks since no other deck really wants anything to do with it, and Golgari not only can effectively stall to seven but can power it out on turn five with help from Axebane.
The other guilds all range from solid to OP when their respective mechanics come together, with Rakdos and Selesnya being the least reliant on actual bombs. Instead they look for multiples of key commons with a smattering of uncommons to help their cause. I definitely want as many Centaur creators as I can get my hands on since nabbing a handful of populate cards isn’t difficult and most people still underrate them. While most respect how powerful Call of the Conclave can be, the nice thing about these cards being tough to splash comes into play with pack two/three picks, and you may be rewarded nicely for being in the right guild at the right spot, moreso than past formats where people only needed to worry about one off-color.
Being aggressive in this format is highly encouraged. Unleash and detain are tailor-made for aggressive tempo-based draft decks. Get the early beats in with Grizzly Bears and detain the biggest blockers, then use a few evasive creatures to finish the game before you run out of gas. With Rakdos it becomes even easier since your creatures brawl well, and both Traitorous Instinct and Explosive Impact allow you to overcome the usual stalling problems encountered by this type of deck. In fact, I expect to lose to Traitorous Instinct and Stab Wound more than any other pair of cards in the format.
There isn’t much else for me to say without playing more of the format… Anything else…
Oh right. Slam a Pack Rat and do a little victory dance, since if the rat lives for any period of time you’ll soon feel like the victim of a devouring swarm.
That’s all for this week! Thanks to everyone who said hi at San Jose and I hope to see some of you at the grand opening of the ChannelFireball Game Center this weekend!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom